In the early 70’s, the Mafia was a prevalent part of New York society. The Mafia understood that people enjoyed to gamble and they became the conduit for all those who needed an outlet for their gambling habit. If I’m making it sound like they were performing a service to society, it’s the Sicilian in me that’s talking. Anyway, my father owned a Candy Store/Luncheonette in Brooklyn an hour and a half away from our home on Long Island. We had an apartment in the back of the store, so my father would stay there all week and drive home on weekends. When I was sixteen, I would meet him halfway to the city on Friday afternoons and he’d give me the keys to the store and our German Shepherd dog for protection. Think about it, I was sixteen years old and running a business by myself each weekend. But, as you will soon find out, I was never alone.
Now, my dad’s Sicilian friends knew that I was working there all weekend and they would be frequent guests in the store. At the same time, they would take their daily bets from our customers for the football game or play the numbers (This was basically a lottery before the government took over the business.) These gentlemen would linger around and talk sports with me, or school, or family matters, with great interest. Of course their sense of loyalty and honor among friends became instrumental in my upbringing. In particular, a gentleman named Max would spend hours telling me about his family and how he was raising his kids to be better than him. A trait all parents can relate to. “Do as I say, not as I do.”
Anyway, when it came time for me to write a novel, for some reason I gravitated to a Sicilian FBI Agent whose cousin was in the Mafia. Nick Bracco and Tommy are direct reflections of my experiences with these fine gentlemen. I could actually hear Max’s voice coming out of Tommy’s mouth when I sat down to write a scene. There’s no doubt these formative years had molded me to the person I am today.
I will leave you with one true story that will reflect the serious nature in which these men took my status among their tutelage: There was a neon Dreyer’s Ice Cream sign that hung in the front window of our store, something that I could reach from behind the counter. That sign was always to remain lit 24 hours a day. The reason? Across the street was a popular hangout for some of the Sicilian boys called Young’s Tavern. It was known that if I ever sensed trouble, I was to turn off the sign. Well, at 10:55 one Friday night, just five minutes before we closed, a teenager came in to buy a fountain drink. (Yes, I would mix coke syrup in a glass with seltzer water to create Coca Cola.) He sat at the counter and glanced around the store for a couple of minutes, then asked where my help was. He also asked how much cash I would collect in a day. Now I was just sixteen, but I wasn’t stupid. This was when I decided to turn off the Dreyer’s Ice Cream sign.
After an excruciatingly long two minutes, the front door opened and three very drunk and large Sicilian men came lumbering into the store and circled the kid sitting at the counter. One guy placed his arm around the teenager and picked up his drink and drank the remainder of the Coke. The kid looked like he was going to puke. Then the guy said, “I don’t think you should ever come back into this store again.” The teenager was a blur running out the door. As my Sicilian friends left, one of them said to me, "Hey, kid, turn the light back on.”
No one ever spoke about the incident. There was no need.
Now, we live in a different world and Tommy’s character has been modified to represent the world we’re living in. However, the essence of his loyalty and respect for the underprivileged shows through in every scene. My Sicilian friends probably did some unseemly things back in the day, but their sense of honor was the only side they showed to me. And as an author, I’m grateful for their stories.